The disbelief friends of former Melbourne police Officer Larry Simpson feel at his apparent suicide is not uncommon in such cases, experts say, as officers frequently go to great lengths to hide feelings of despair or vulnerability.
"Their culture is very machismo-oriented," said David Palmiter, 41, Director of the Psychological Services Center for Marywood University in Pennsylvania and a psychologist for the past 15 years.
"Talking about your inner world and talking about things that make you sad or fearful is not attractive and not encouraged. It doesn't garner the law enforcement officer the kind of reputation he wants."
Nonetheless, most police officers say their job is very high-stressed, Palmiter said.
Clarence Rowe, president of the Central Brevard NAACP and a friend of Simpson's, said he was shocked when he heard the 47-year-old had shot himself to death Saturday while fellow officers were trying to arrest him.
"It would be a cold day in hell before he would do anything like that," Rowe said. "It doesn't seem like Larry. He never ran from anybody. He was just too much of a man for that."
That's exactly the image police officers like to project, Palmiter said. But it isn't always accurate.
"I once had a police officer park a half an hour away and take back alleys" to keep people from figuring out he was seeing a psychologist, Palmiter said.
"If you can't let your feelings out, they build up in there. How many jobs do people have where they put their life on the line? Officers need a place to deal with the consequences of that service. Even though I can't talk about Simpson's case in particular, getting arrested for a police officer tops the stress level."
According to the National P.O.L.I.C.E. Suicide Foundation, there were more than 400 police suicides in 2000. From 1985 to 1998, 87 officers committed suicide in the New York City Police Department, which has roughly 40,000 officers, as compared to 36 killed in the line of duty.
In the Chicago Police Department, sized about 13,500 from 1990 to 1998, 22 officers committed suicide while 12 officers were killed in the line of duty.